Tag Archives: soccer

The Little Cats are in the Barn


I took to the sideline with a twinge of sadness this morning because it was the last game of the season for the mighty Sea Lions of the MFBC Upward Fall Soccer League and unfortunately, we were a little shorthanded today.

Right off, I missed my little cotton-topped Garrison with his front-toothless smile, but he was at a father-son camp-out weekend and I could hardly begrudge him that. Thomas and I agreed of all the bambinos, he “grew”. He was already a first class shooter and in the early games, he worried more about the score than the team, but as the season progressed, he picked up new skills, including a tremendous ability to find an open teammate with a great pass. He also calmed down considerably from the ball of energy and bounce who showed up at the first practice to hang on my legs and shoulders. He was really a fun kid to be around.

We also missed Tru today and that worried me most of all because his mom was in charge of snacks for after the game. I didn’t really care about snacks, but Tru missed the last practices following our penultimate. I missed that game also after an ER visit to get Budge’s gall bladder checked, but Thomas told me Tru had an “incident” where he beat on one of our girls during his session on the sidelines. Knowing Tru, he was showing affection, but it was unnerving to the little lady and her parents and I certainly understand. Immediately after the final horn Tru’s, mom scooped him up and hurried away; that was the last we saw him. Thomas’ reminder email went unanswered. I wish I could say Tru matured as much as the others, but he didn’t and I’m pretty sure it’s because Tru has more pressing problems on his little mind than soccer. I hope he’ll come out the other side okay. I know the road he’s on and I hope something I said sticks with him in the darkness ahead.

At first, I was worried Sophie might not show because she missed practice Tuesday, which is completely unlike her. We found out today when she showed up what caused her absence. She and her parents spent a week at DisneyWorld! I now know she doesn’t like Space Mountain — too dark — but she loved Splash Mountain and Thunder River and she met Mickey and ate at Cinderella’s Castle and saw all the fireworks and stayed in a neat hotel and got mouse ears with her name on them and voted for Pooh and not Captain Hook and WHEW! . . . well, you get the idea! We learned this during the game as she related each part of the story of her dream vacation while standing next to Thomas or me as the ball was in play, but on the other end of the field and therefore of less concern in the moment than the happiest place on earth. Did I mention Sophie is a darling, intelligent ONLY CHILD? She is not doted upon, but it’s obvious who the family’s centers on. I will really miss her.

I’ll still get to see little Lauren on at least a weekly basis since she’s my co-coach’s daughter and the reason he, then I, got into this gig in the first place. She improved a lot over the season, especially in endurance. Our first practices, she spent walking instead of running, but today, she managed to play the entire game non-stop. She is a precious little lady even if TREMENDOUSLY dramatic! Her parents are in the same community group at church as Budge and me and for the first several months, she didn’t care much for me. I’d speak to her, but she’d walk away with all the haughtiness a six-year-old can muster. After the first practice, though, she started talking my ears off. When her mother asked her why, Lauren’s reply was, “Oh Mom, Mr. Shannon’s my COACH!” Apparently, that makes it all different!

Now Jonas didn’t need to build up his endurance. For the entire season, he was never still. If he was standing, he was hopping from leg to leg. Sitting in the circle during half-time devotions, he bounced on his bottom, his energy level off any scale. I mentioned to Thomas if we could bottle Jonas’ energy, we’d make a fortune. I don’t think he knows how to walk; he ran full tilt everywhere he went, on the field and off. Of all the team, he was THE most competitive. Even when we reminded him the object was to have fun, he was always keenly aware of the “score.” He was a phenomenal player and we didn’t teach him much he didn’t already know, but he was a ball of energy on the field and always got the team going, even if he was prone to take the ball from anyone on the field, including his mates!

One frequent victim of Jonas’ ball theft was little Collin. Collin is without a doubt one of the ten cutest children I know. His round little face is capable of such exquisite expression, from extreme irritation, usually after someone took the ball from him, to boundless euphoria when he infrequently scored a goal. Oh I loved being around that child. I swear he could charm an angel. I felt we didn’t have a great start because he didn’t speak to Thomas or me during the first two practices or games. He’d just look when I called his name to put him in. I asked his daddy if he was quiet and dad grinned — a mirror image of his youngest son — and said, “Oh, just wait til he decides he likes you.” he started liking us halfway through the third practice and when he started talking, he didn’t stop. I didn’t mind though because even his voice was adorable.

There’s not one of my seven little soccer kittens I wouldn’t take into my own home in a skinny minute. I told all the parents I’d be glad to take them off their hands. Of course, they know I have no children so I got more than one knowing smile and nod. Apparently, I do not know of what I speak!

I still can’t believe I spent three months coaching these itty-bitties, but it was some of the greatest fun I’ve ever had in my life. Lauren wants to play in the spring, so hopefully Coach Thomas and Coach Shannon can put together another group of amazing soccer babies!

Here’s hoping. Love y’all and clean your soccer cleats!


Onward and Upward: The Joy of Herding Cats


Back about the middle of July, my buddy Thomas texted me with a proposition. His middle child and youngest daughter, Lauren, was going to play soccer. He planned to coach and wanted to know if I would agree to help him as his co-coach. I have no idea what compelled him to choose me out of all the people he knows. I am certain it was not for my vast experience as an award winning soccer coach since my entire knowledge of soccer comes from one season as a high school head coach of necessity — which I’ve already discussed — and a few viewings of various FIFA World Cups over the years. Furthermore, I have no children of my own of any age so the little ones are a mystery to me, albeit an adorable one.  Whatever his reasons, I found my fingers texting back “Sure thing; it’ll be fun.”

Looking back, I’m relatively certain I figured Thomas would find someone better suited OR Lauren would decided to stick with horseback riding OR the Mayan Apocalypse would be several months early. I don’t think I seriously considered actually being a children’s soccer coach until a month later when I was actually sitting next to Thomas at the intro meeting for the MFBC Upward Soccer League. By then, my pride wouldn’t let me run away screaming; although it might have actually been less embarrassing if I had.

Too late for that, though. I was an Upward Soccer Coach.

Here I should tell you a few important details about this particular league. Upward Soccer is a Christian outreach program. Each practice and game include a time for a short devotion. It’s a way to learn about Jesus and play a little soccer. At least, that’s the theory.

One other important thing I need to mention. Our team? Three kindergarteners and four first graders. What experience I do have with children has always been with the middle school or older crowd. Now, I was expected to teach the “itty-bittys” about “The Beautiful Game.” If you are already laughing, stay tuned. It gets better.

In Upward, we play on a quarter sized field with four players per side. We don’t have goalies because no one wants a K5er getting kicked in the mouth going for a save. The goals are tiny as well — six feet wide by three feet high. Other than that, most of the rules are just like regular soccer.

Our team is Lauren, Addy, Sofia, Garrison, Jonas, Collin, and True. We are the Sea Lions, but secretly I like to refer to us as The Magnificent Seven. Officially, it’s called Upward Soccer, but a more accurate name for it would be Amoeba Ball. Keep in mind, K5 and 1st graders — eight on a field at a time. Basically, it’s a #3 sized soccer ball amidst sixteen whirling, stabbing, jabbing, and flailing lower limbs. Wherever the ball moves, the cloud of dust and children follow. Position play is a distant dream. If the ball squirts out of the scrum and a team-mate kicks it next instead of an opponent, we call it a “pass” and are deliriously happy.

It truly is like herding cats; especially given how all the kittens don’t always want to play at the same time.

Take Addy for instance. She is a precious child. At our first practice, I was trying to get her and her teammates to line up in two lines. How hard can it be, right? Let me put it this way; I used to laugh at the colored tiles on the floor at Budge’s school after she told me they used them to teach the children where to line up correctly. If I could have, I would have tiled the entire soccer field just to have colored squares. In little Addy’s case, however, it wouldn’t have helped. She was having a terrible time figuring out how to line up so I knelt down next to her and said, “Baby, it’s like getting in line to go to the gym or the lunchroom at school or maybe lining up to go out to recess.” She looked at me so very sweetly with her little pink bow and her cute glasses making her eyes even bigger and brighter and said in a completely guileless, precious voice,

“Mr Shannon, I’m homeschooled.” So much for THAT analogy.

Another tendency of these little ones I’m learning is how whatever enters their minds must exit through their mouths IMMEDIATELY lest it be forgotten, which would be a terrible tragedy. For example, here’s an exchange during our first devotion midway through the initial practice:

Thomas: “Can anyone tell me who Jesus is?”
Garrison: “I’m firsty; can I get a dwink of water?”
Jonas: “Does he go to school around here?”
Lauren: “Daddy, we learned about Jesus at Camp Grace.”
True: “I’ve got new cleats! See them?” (Holds up foot with new cleat on it)

That’s just the beginning of the tales. I have a ton more to say about our little team and since the season runs through October, expect more posts about this adventure. Right now though, I have to go do some research. Sofia is DYING to play Sharks and Minnows at the next practice and I have NO idea what she means!

Love y’all and keep those feet (and new cleats) clean!

How I Learned The Beautiful Game


All across the South, daddies place a football in their sons’ cribs hoping to inculcate a desire to excel on the gridiron. By the same token, all across South America, padres place a futbol in seus filhos cribs hoping to inculcate a desire to excel on the pitch. The former is knowledge gained from personal observation; the latter Brenno told me.

Brenno was an exchange student from Rio de Janerio. He was a natural athlete and a fabulous kid to boot. The year he wrestled for me, he made the state quarterfinals having never seen a wrestling mat before he stepped onto ours. He was region champion and placed in every tournament we entered. As amazing a natural wrestler as he was, his real sport was futebol — what we Americans call soccer. In “The Beautiful Game”, he was phenomenal.

Now in most of South Carolina, soccer is ignored at best and denounced as communist at worst. Our program was five years old and had seen six coaches. This year, no one had volunteered to coach. Coach Candler stopped by my room one day and asked, “Wham, will you please take soccer this year?” Gentle readers, please note you could inscribe every jot and tittle of my soccer knowledge at that moment on the back of a postage stamp with wide margins all around, but Budge and I had just moved out so the bit of extra money would help. With a furtive nod, I began my year as a soccer coach.  Luckily, I had yet to meet Brenno.

I was sitting next to Brenno on the bus ride to a match when he asked, in the accent that assured him a gorgeous prom date, “Coach, You gonna coach futbol this year.”  He followed up with, “We gonna run a 3-3-4 or a 1-6-4 or what?” Brenno read my panicked, dumbfounded look and said, “Coach, you doan know a ting about futbol, do you?” I shook my head. He smiled and said, “Is okay, Coach, I din’ tink you looked like a futboler. How ’bout I put dem in de rat places, an’ you make dem roan? ‘K?” I suddenly felt a little better about spring.

First day of soccer practice, I met the team in the parking lot so we could walk together to the field. Brenno asked, “Dis where we gonna play, coach?” I laughed thinking he was having a joke at my expense.

He wasn’t.

We walked to the stadium and Brenno saw the field. We had a typical field for a 2A school with no budget for capital improvements; it was two pies and a barbed wire fence short of a cow pasture. I was looking over some drills I’d found on the ‘Net when one of the guys said, “Coach, something’s bad wrong with Brenno.” I walked over and he was teary-eyed, staring at the field as if he’d just discovered El Dorado. I put my arm around his shoulders — well, more like the middle of his back — and said, “What’s wrong, dude?” If I live to be ten centuries old, I’ll never forget how much I’d taken for granted all my life when he asked, “Coach, we gonna play on grass?” The last word came out reverently.

Brenno had never played on grass. The one grass field he knew of was used ONLY by “AAA League,” — a pro league. He and his friends played on a dirt field free of stones but hard as slate. He had scars on his legs from falling while playing.

He was amazed that we had FIFTEEN perfectly round leather regulation soccer balls. He was used to kicking made up balls of tape wrapped around twine or some such concoction. I asked him what would happen if he had that bag of balls in his neighborhood. He said, “Oh, Coach, I could never keep such a treasure. My friends and I would take them to the priest to keep safe and give out when we played; our children and grandchildren would play with them.”

Brenno took that bag of treasure home with him. I told Coach C. to take it out of my pay if he had to. He didn’t, but it would have been worth it to see the look on Brenno’s face when we gave the full bag to him at the end-of-the-season banquet. We’d  had the best season in the program’s history — we only lost one more game than we won. Brenno scored every goal and was co-MVP of the conference along with a Mexican exchange student at our rival school.

As much as he taught me and the others about “futbol,” his real gift was teaching us how much we have to be thankful for and just how much we take for granted. I miss him and I hope he’s okay and still playing with those balls.

Love y’all and wash the soccer field dust off your feet! 🙂